Why We Fell For Clean Eating
December 28, 2017 1:35 PM   Subscribe

With Instagram nutritionists peddling diet advice that purports to cure disease and beautify, the Guardian explores why millions of "vulnerable and lost" dieters are falling for clean eating.
posted by chrchr (91 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Because the internet is still younger than lots of us and nobody grew up with anyone teaching them how to vet information online.

This same problem of "who to trust?" arose with the printing press as well, if I recall my history correctly.

Couple that with the internet exposing the dark underbelly of basically every major traditional institution (church, government, corporation, media) that has lead many people to lose nearly all trust in those institutions. (Also something that happened with the printing press...)

Finally, between not knowing how to vet new information and traditional informational sources being seen as less valid than they claim to be, you have a perfect storm for unverified bullshit to spread endlessly.

I think Ray Bradbury tried to warn us.

(Also, when you're young and beautiful and healthy, it's totally easy to convince yourself that what you're doing isn't unhealthy. I saw plenty of young men tell themselves that because they were skinny, it didn't matter that they were drinking themselves to death in their twenties, because they sure "looked" healthy, by virtue of being YOUNG. Blonde Vegan was 23 when her hair started falling out.)
posted by deadaluspark at 1:46 PM on December 28 [27 favorites]


I especially appreciated the very real, compelling context given by the article, in which such fad diets have taken hold:
Clean eating – whether it is called that or not – is perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a dream of purity in a toxic world. To walk into a modern western supermarket is to be assailed by aisle upon aisle of salty, oily snacks and sugary cereals, of “bread” that has been neither proved nor fermented, of cheap, sweetened drinks and meat from animals kept in inhumane conditions.

In the postwar decades, most countries in the world underwent what the professor of nutrition Barry Popkin calls a “nutrition transition” to a westernised diet high in sugar, meat, fat, salt, refined oils and ultra-processed concoctions, and low in vegetables. Affluence and multi-national food companies replaced the hunger of earlier generations with an unwholesome banquet of sweet drinks and convenience foods that teach us from a young age to crave more of the same. Wherever this pattern of eating travelled, it brought with it dramatic rises in ill health, from allergies to cancer.

In prosperous countries, large numbers of people – whether they wanted to lose weight or not – became understandably scared of the modern food supply and what it was doing to our bodies: type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a host of other complaints that are influenced by diet, ranging from Alzheimer’s to gout. When mainstream diets start to sicken people, it is unsurprising that many of us should seek other ways of eating to keep ourselves safe from harm. Our collective anxiety around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet – inflated by newspaper headlines – could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these “experts” say next, and why should we believe them?

Into this atmosphere of anxiety and confusion stepped a series of gurus offering messages of wonderful simplicity and reassurance: eat this way and I will make you fresh and healthy again.”
posted by darkstar at 2:01 PM on December 28 [25 favorites]


I don't think this one can be pinned on the internet. As a food historian, I've read and written about the various waves of food-faddism that have swept America (in particular) from the days of Catherine Ward Beecher up through the Grahamites and Fletcherizers and Gayelord Hauser zombies and pineapple juice fasters and vinegar drinkers (who are back, by the way) and South Beachers and on and on. None of these have truly been evidence-based and all won a sizeable following. I think the nugget of truth here is expressed well in this sentence: "a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply," coupled with the lack of a stable cultural relationship to food. That's all been with us a long time. This is just the latest flavor.
posted by Miko at 2:02 PM on December 28 [141 favorites]


I read that whole thing and I still don't know what's supposed to be wrong with the idea of "clean eating". Everything I read everywhere says to avoid sugar, carbs, meat, and dairy. And that everything you eat and touch will give you cancer. This whole article felt like blaming the victim. People are just trying to figure out how to live.
posted by bleep at 2:03 PM on December 28 [25 favorites]


Our collective anxiety around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet – inflated by newspaper headlines – could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these “experts” say next, and why should we believe them?

This whole article felt like blaming the victim. People are just trying to figure out how to live.

I think the article goes into good detail about why it's a problem and why the problem arose and that it doesn't necessarily blame the people looking for solutions. It absolutely discusses what you are talking about, which is the same point I made farther up in the thread, that people fundamentally lack faith in our food system as being healthy, and as such, they seek out new solutions. Since new solutions are not well vetted, people end up hurting themselves.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:08 PM on December 28 [30 favorites]


Clean eating is a good idea! As long as you keep the mantra that everything should be done in moderation, esp. moderation. They took Michael Pollans excellent rule for diet, (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.) and took out the moderation modifiers. Or live according to Mark Bittman's missive. Eat anything, as much as you'd like, as long as you make it.

Either one of these are at the heart of clean eating, but without the strident rule creation that humans seem to enjoy self-imposing to any good idea.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:09 PM on December 28 [8 favorites]


Miko,

I didn't mean to lay the entire blame on the internet, you are right that diet fads have been around a long time, I just was specifically referring to the Instagram diet fads, in which the internet plays a bigger role, obviously.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:09 PM on December 28 [1 favorite]


This is totally wild. When Singer and others started writing about the ethics of eating animals, it was interconnected with a critique of political power and corporate food production systems--the Farm Bill, etc. That part of veganism was the the most obscure, requires the most research, and is the most difficult to communicate; and so that has been easily disconnected from consumerist currents.
posted by eustatic at 2:16 PM on December 28 [14 favorites]


I still don't know what's supposed to be wrong with the idea of "clean eating"

Well, among other things, it is truly contemptible to imply that the way other people eat is dirty.
posted by praemunire at 2:23 PM on December 28 [115 favorites]


At its heart, "clean eating" seems to push all the right ED buttons that I ever had. I've had to make a rule for myself that I am not going vegetarian, period, end of story, because that, for me, is exactly where that rabbit hole goes. Part of it is that there is a lot wrong with the modern Western diet, and a lot wrong with modern Western body image, and all that. But part of it is also that certain people's brain chemistry can seize particularly on notions of contamination and purity, a black and white space where some things are dirty and some things are clean in a way that transcends their actual ingredients or anything else. I don't think there's anything wrong with eating a diet that is mostly or even entirely plants if it's nutritionally complete and healthy for you, but assigning virtue to those foods, assigning some things to be "clean" and other things not and inferring those qualities to your self-image and your life... that's different.

It's like if you asked a bunch of people with eating disorders to invent the most triggering possible thing. I've been doing really super well lately--and then this very week got caught on several separate occasions combing blog posts about plant-based whole food diets which use a lot of that language, and wondering if maybe it'd be okay if I did it if I just, say, only did it weekdays... To take these concepts that're already incredibly damaging and then give them a giant platform full of pretty pictures and a marketing budget is a scary thing.
posted by Sequence at 2:24 PM on December 28 [91 favorites]


To take these concepts that're already incredibly damaging and then give them a giant platform full of pretty pictures and a marketing budget is a scary thing.

The capitalist marketplace is the most efficient allocator of resources eating disorders.

But truly, how is that different from any other area of "marketing?" It's disgusting, but it seems rampant in basically every industry. If it sells, no matter how damaging, people will put money behind it, so they can get a cut of what sells.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:26 PM on December 28 [1 favorite]


"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." - H. L. Mencken. Still true.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:35 PM on December 28 [53 favorites]


it's like "eat this food not that food" is user: "admin" password: "admin" and lets any old junk take over in the poor delicate vulnerable human brain, clean eating instagram human brain root kit
posted by idiopath at 2:36 PM on December 28 [7 favorites]


clean eating instagram human brain root kit

To be fair, the human brain has never had anything done about its zero-day vulnerabilities (of which there are a plethora).

I've been waiting on an OTA update (Ubermensch 1.0) from Nietzsche for a while now, but no luck.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:40 PM on December 28 [13 favorites]


At its heart, "clean eating" seems to push all the right ED buttons that I ever had.
Yes, that. I can’t get within 200 feet of anything pushing “clean eating.” It’s like someone genetically engineered the perfect eating disorder trigger.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:40 PM on December 28 [18 favorites]


In my role as a Chemistry professor, I am often asked by students about quack remedies like “alkaline water” and “hydrogen peroxide therapy” and homeopathy. I usually start by telling them that it’s easy to make a false scientific claim in ten seconds that sounds plausible, but will take a good hour or more to satisfactorily refute. And then I invite them to my office hours to discuss it further if they want.

The Clean Eating movement has so much pseudoscience in it that it’s tempting to be entirely dismissive, as one might of outright quackery. But I very much appreciate that the article is nuanced, and does give the Clean Eating movement credit for having noticed the fundamental problems with modern food, with a huge caveat:
The true calamity of clean eating is not that it is entirely false. It is that it contains “a kernel of truth”, as Giles Yeo puts it. “When you strip down all the pseudo babble, they are absolutely right to say that we should eat more vegetables, less refined sugar and less meat,” Yeo said, sipping a black coffee in his office at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, where he spends his days researching the causes of obesity.

Yeo agrees with the clean eaters that our environment of cheap, plentiful, sugary, fatty food is a recipe for widespread obesity and ill health. The problem is it’s near impossible to pick out the sensible bits of “clean eating” and ignore the rest.

#Eatclean made healthy eating seem like something “expensive, exclusive and difficult to achieve”, as Anthony Warner writes. Whether the term “clean” is used or not, there is a new puritanism about food that has taken root very widely. The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without bouncing back to a mindless celebration of the modern food environment that is demonstrably making so many people sick.

...Our food system is in desperate need of reform. There’s a danger that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic task of nourishing us.
posted by darkstar at 2:40 PM on December 28 [26 favorites]


Well, I don't know if I would entirely blame capitalism or marketing. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for probably as long as human civilization, and even though has scant scientific evidence in support of it, there are still people who believe in it. For example, I was honestly surprised at hearing about Olympic athletes who underwent cupping therapy.
posted by FJT at 2:41 PM on December 28 [5 favorites]


I read that whole thing and I still don't know what's supposed to be wrong with the idea of "clean eating". Everything I read everywhere says to avoid sugar, carbs, meat, and dairy.

I think that the things you read may differ in their definition of "avoid" - some may mean "try not to subsist ENTIRELY on a diet of burgers and cheese, try to eat mostly vegetables" and some may mean "never eat sugar, carbs, meat, and dairy ever again". The difference between the two is that the former will also say "a burger once in a while is actually okay, but make it a sometime food" while the latter will simply say "never eat sugar, carbs, meat, and dairy ever again".

There is a tendency towards fundamentalism and extremism in the clean-eating movement - it's that fundamentalism that the article is about, not so much the actual tenents being preached. The article isn't so much about the fact that the Blond Vegan used to be vegan, but then over time discovered that a more balanced diet worked better for her; the article is about the fact that when the Blond Vegan told her followers "hey, guys, so I've realized I should start eating fish now and then after all becuase my body will function better," it made her followers attack her and decry her as a heretic.

The only people who would have the grounds to call someone "heretic" over what they eat should be doing so for religious reasons - like, say, if someone caught the Lubavitcher Rebbe having a bacon double cheeseburger or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:59 PM on December 28 [38 favorites]


Well, among other things, it is truly contemptible to imply that the way other people eat is dirty.

Many of the things described in this article, particularly the death threats and suggestions that photogenic young "clean eating" celebrities look good because of their dietary virtue, are reminding me of the 2015 episode of the BBC The Food Chain podcast India: Faith, Food, and Politics (Trigger warning: threats of sexual violenceexample.)

I think perhaps the mentions of genetic engineering and marketing and brain chemistry are making this phenomenon out as a modern thing when it is much more venerable.
posted by XMLicious at 3:00 PM on December 28 [1 favorite]


This was a remarkably sane point:

Our food system is in desperate need of reform. There’s a danger that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic task of nourishing us. Former orthorexia sufferer Edward L Yuen has argued – in his 2014 book, Beating Orthorexia – that the old advice of “everything in moderation” no longer works in a food environment where eating in the “middle ground” may still leave you with chronic diseases. When portions are supersized and Snickers bars are sold by the metre (something I saw in my local Tesco recently), eating “normally” is not necessarily a balanced option. The answer isn’t yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food.

Sales of courgettes in the UK soared 20% from 2014 to 2015, fuelled by the rise of the spiraliser. But overall consumption of vegetables, both in the UK and worldwide, is still vanishingly small (with 74% of the adult UK population not managing to eat five a day). That is much lower than it was in the 1950s, when freshly cooked daily meals were still something that most people took for granted.


And there's the rub - replacing pasta with some spiralized courgettes/zucchini doesn't mean that much if it means you're not eating much more in the way of veggies (or if those veggies aren't easier to get than junk food), but the ritual of replacing that evil ("dirty") pasta with the spiralized zucchini feels like a morally righteous act or an act of supreme control. People don't fall for it because they're stupid (public ignorance helps the people making money off of it, sure, and they have a vested interest in muddying the waters of evidence-based nutrition science) - people fall for it because they want to feel like they're doing something right.

The other problem with the marketing of "clean eating" are the nostrums its touts peddle along with it, namely the "cleanse" (although these have been around for quite some time - see Kellogg, Dr. John Harvey, for example).

From the article:

Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day “cleanse” programme – a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.

But here's the thing. There is no such thing as a "cleanse" or "detox" in this sense. That's what your liver and kidneys are there for.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:01 PM on December 28 [17 favorites]


I think this would have been a shorter piece if the author had just looked up the definition of orothorexia and spoken to a couple of experts in eating disorders.

Dividing food into groups of good/safe/pure and bad/dangerous/evil is sort of a defining characteristics of many eating disorders -- "clean eating" is just a phrase that shortcuts right to the part of a person's brain who is susceptible to that kind of thing.

I don't buy that this says anything about The Times We Live In -- people have used extremely restricted eating of "pure" foods to cope with their lives for millennia.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:02 PM on December 28 [8 favorites]


Whenever anyone complains to me about the "post-truth culture", or blames it for some social ill or other, I like to tell them the story of Margaret Murray and the witchcraft entry in the Encyclopædia Britannica between 1929 and 1969. Professor Murray was a distinguished and influential Egyptologist, who also happened to believe in and promote a range of unsupported and untrue beliefs about the survival of a pre-Christian religious tradition in Europe. Her The Witch-Cult in Western Europe will be a familiar title to Lovecraftians. As a result of her interest in witchcraft, and her academic distinction in a distinct but related field, she was asked to write the entry on witchcraft for inclusion in the 1929 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. This entry presented her theories as fact, and despite being almost entirely untrue, remained the definitive layperson's account of European witchcraft for 40 years.

We have always lived in a "post-truth culture". We have always been at the mercy of our unreliable sources and their mediation by gatekeepers in whom we place unwarranted trust. The challenge of the internet era is not that we have moved from truth to post-truth, it's that we now have so many competing claims to truth that it's obvious that most of them must be nonsense. We don't get to sit in the cosy bubble of a consensus reality, where the fact of the matter on witchcraft can be settled by consulting an entirely authoritative and entirely erroneous encyclopedia entry. Truth is no more elusive than it ever was, it's just that now we have to face up to the reality that we don't know what is true. It would be better if we also admitted that we never did.
posted by howfar at 3:02 PM on December 28 [51 favorites]


(BTW, this post inspired me to go finish assembling my new barbell bench and then steam up a bag of broccoli. So cheers for that!)
posted by darkstar at 3:04 PM on December 28 [3 favorites]


There’s a danger that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic task of nourishing us. Yes! I feel this way when I'm irritated by my friends' extreme diets.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:10 PM on December 28 [8 favorites]


The idea of "post truth" doesn't suggest that wrong information is somehow new. Wrong information has always been with us. I see "post truth" used to describe scenarios where there is a disregard for the veracity of the information. It doesn't matter if it's true. In the #eatclean universe, we also see the related phenomena of dismissing the value of expertise.
posted by chrchr at 3:13 PM on December 28 [25 favorites]


This is what it looks like when hominids run on instinct.

We use a weird mixture of eros and disgust to poke ourselves in the right directions about food; we have strong feelings about ripeness and rot. Sympathetic magic whispers to us that we can attain the qualities of the things we consume.

History suggests this isn’t a bad way to motivate apes to seek out the best food sources available in the absence of better information. In your standard Mad Max type scenario, for instance, being in touch with one’s sense of food purity could be life-saving. Today access to better information is plentiful but distrusted, so suspicious apes with busy television watching schedules to attend to turn back to gut feelings about food.

We are raccoons, repeatedly, neurotically washing our food — and our food ideas. Because something, somewhere, smells persistently rotten.

Badger.
posted by Construction Concern at 3:18 PM on December 28 [18 favorites]


The challenge of the internet era is not that we have moved from truth to post-truth, it's that we now have so many competing claims to truth that it's obvious that most of them must be nonsense.

I think that was my point of saying "Ray Bradbury warned us" considering Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451 spends whole paragraphs talking about how books end up being useless, because just when you find one that proves your point, you find five others that deconstruct and disprove the point you've spent so long trying to prove.

In essence, it's no different than it was, it's just that, for a period, we decided that we trusted a lot of institutions (as humans do time and time again). We did that because those institutions were birthed from revolution and a rejection of the "old way" of doing things. They became "trusted" not because they were infallible, but because they generally got things right more than most. This process of figuring out who was the most trustworthy can take a long, long time. Thus my point about the printing press. You didn't go from the printing press being invented to the next day the New York Times was considered the standard for journalism.

The point I'm making is that there was a quantitative shift in both situations. Suddenly there was so much information coming in from all sides, all disagreeing with one another, that people had no idea who to trust. In each, it truly gave so many more people a "voice" in public discourse. (This is not always a net positive.) Thus, you have this explosion of information and misinformation in a period where trust in institutions is at an all time low due to endless scandal. This endless scandal has only been possible due to the nature of the internet. The first post ever on Reddit was about the Downing Street Memo. There was not an absolute media blitz about the content of that memo.

Just like government corruption is not new, corruption of all stripes is not new, it's rather that people were willing to let those issues simmer under the surface as long as it did not affect their lives. The food system is a big one that affects their lives, and so they are desperate to find something better than what they're offered. More and more the scandals and corruption absolutely do affect people's lives, mostly for the negative, and in that, people have less faith in those institutions.

If the "post-truth" era is doing anything, it's just putting a final nail in the coffin of the entire concept of "truth," which, as you pointed out, has always been something that we can't actually grasp due to biological limitations and social limitations.
posted by deadaluspark at 3:18 PM on December 28 [4 favorites]


Because something, somewhere, smells persistently rotten.

Well, I'd be happy to take "rotten foods" like chocolate, kimchi, and wine off of everyone's hands for, err-um, safe disposal.
posted by FJT at 3:32 PM on December 28 [15 favorites]


The idea of "post truth" doesn't suggest that wrong information is somehow new. Wrong information has always been with us. I see "post truth" used to describe scenarios where there is a disregard for the veracity of the information. It doesn't matter if it's true. In the #eatclean universe, we also see the related phenomena of dismissing the value of expertise.

But when did it ever? We have never assessed information primarily on its own merits, rather on the trust that we place in its sources and the extent to which they match our particular preferences. Almost no one who believes that "clean eating" works does so because they believe that reality can be altered through belief, they believe that its claims are true as matters of objective fact. They're entirely wrong, of course, but they're not operating in some postmodern paradigm. It matters to them very much whether it is true, because they believe that their health and happiness are dependent upon its actual objective truth.

Dismissing the value of expertise is a real problem, but it has become endemic in our culture not as a result of childish wilfulness, but out of a realisation that a lot of the time the people we believe to be experts really are wrong. The conclusion that expertise is accordingly unimportant is entirely wrong, of course, but it's not surprising that people draw it.
posted by howfar at 3:38 PM on December 28 [7 favorites]


I remember when oat bran was a cure all.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 3:47 PM on December 28 [7 favorites]


Just eat more Grape-Nuts.
posted by freakazoid at 4:08 PM on December 28 [4 favorites]


One more element to the clean eating trend is how it plays into the ever-persistent pressure on women to look a certain way. Women's media is obsessed with giving diet tips not just to be slim, but also to have shiny hair, clear skin and a mysterious "glow". Look at beauty websites like Into The Gloss -- for every makeup and skincare piece, there's something about a food or wildly expensive nutritional supplement you should add to your diet to be prettier.

IMO, the danger of this -- besides the fact that it lacks scientific evidence, and that I'm sure the pretty young women shilling this lifestyle would be pretty regardless of what they ate -- is that it gives beauty a troubling moral element, and turns the pursuit of looking good into a truly 24/7 obsession.
posted by noxperpetua at 4:22 PM on December 28 [47 favorites]


We’ve never really gotten past the idea that disease is an instrument of supernatural justice. The most toxic idea of food fads is the idea that being ill is the fault of the patient. Being ill — having a “low immune system” — represents a failure to eat clean.

That kind of baloney erodes compassion. It all becomes chemical karma. We deserve what we manifest.
posted by Construction Concern at 4:27 PM on December 28 [64 favorites]


So, are spiralized vegetables any good?
posted by leahwrenn at 4:30 PM on December 28


as long as you don't call them zoodles as this initiates the mayhem.exe program in my brain
posted by poffin boffin at 4:33 PM on December 28 [34 favorites]


but everybody knows that good people are always beautiful and bad things only happen to bad people and illness only happens because of our moral failings and poverty is god's punishment and disability is a curse the gods put on parents and blah blah blah eating broccoli is like buying indulgences to escape purgatory tater tots are the devil
posted by idiopath at 5:10 PM on December 28 [26 favorites]


I'm sorry. Maybe being rambly and less than coherent is a bad way to express sarcasm. That was sarcasm. This stuff really bothers me.
posted by idiopath at 5:11 PM on December 28 [4 favorites]


I was feeling down the other day and had the thought "if someone would just tell me what to do to be a happy, good person, I would do it." Obviously for many people religion takes care of that, but I can see how things like "clean" eating also fill that void.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 5:31 PM on December 28 [22 favorites]


> I can see how things like "clean" eating also fill that void

I can't be the only person who wishes my life took some odd turn that required a personal trainer coming by every day and bossing me around, like Chris Pratt transforming from Andy to Peter Quill.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:41 PM on December 28 [28 favorites]


I think this would have been a shorter piece if the author had just looked up the definition of orothorexia and spoken to a couple of experts in eating disorders.

I don't understand why you think she didn't do this. She quotes Renee McGregor frequently, a dietician who works with people suffering from eating disorders.

Personally, I have not been very aware of clean eating, except that I've noticed products telling me they are #guiltfree, which annoys me to no end because I know that categorizing food into good and bad is a major sign of eating disorder. Plus, who is some marketing person to tell me what food is good or bad!! Anyway, this piece gave me a fuller picture of what is going on with this trend and helped me connect some dots.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:46 PM on December 28 [8 favorites]


So, are spiralized vegetables any good?

I used my spiralizer yesterday to peel, core + cut apples for an apple pie. Turned out pretty good. Not vegetables, but anecdata, nonetheless.

Notable health benefits are mostly of the "Woo-hoo, pie!" sort, so your mileage may vary. If seeking the maximum "Woo-hoo, pie!" benefits, consult a four year old. Ask your inner child if a la mode is right for you. Pie: find a new you between two crusts.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:53 PM on December 28 [13 favorites]


At its heart, "clean eating" seems to push all the right ED buttons that I ever had.

Oh Lordy, yes. I have anxiety and IBS and the fear of what I am putting into my mouth never really goes away. This kind of "Cut out gluten! Cut out sugar!" is rampant in the IBS-treatment world and to be perfectly honest, elimination diets have never really helped the situation. Like, often when I have a flareup, it's because I ate, like, normal food, the same stuff I always eat. But the pull is still strong. If someone could give me food that wouldn't upset my stomach, and told me that if I just ate that and nothing else, I would be healthy, I would buy into that sooooo fast . . .


Can't say I thought much of the Blonde Vegan's diet, though; I read through her list of things she wouldn't eat and thought, uh, where's the protein? No wonder her hair fell out.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:56 PM on December 28 [9 favorites]


Also I think zoodles are gross but they are kinda like spaghetti squash in that if you put enough marinara sauce and cheese on them, they taste all right.

poffin boffin, commence the mayhem!
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:57 PM on December 28 [1 favorite]


Yeah, IBS kinda sucks but it’s not a thing like Crohn’s disease where there’s a clear cause. It’s just, like… sometimes I poop too much! Sometimes I don’t poop enough! ƪ(˘∀˘)ʃ
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:07 PM on December 28 [7 favorites]


Can't speak to spiralized zucchini, but I recently spent an unholy amount of money on fettucine-ized butternut squash from a fancy grocery store. I ate it with marinara sauce and it was pretty good. However, I'm pretty sure my normal meal of whole wheat pasta with marinara and a side-dish of butternut squash is perfectly sound.
posted by acrasis at 6:08 PM on December 28 [2 favorites]


rip tire coming ur way
posted by poffin boffin at 6:20 PM on December 28


With the spiralized noodles and cauliflower rice and so on: I love that stuff, because I like cauliflower and zucchini. It makes me sad to see them get a bad rap because they're urged upon people who would rather eat rice and pasta. The reason to eat cauliflower rice is because cauliflower is delicious with curry and gravy and that kind of thing.
posted by Frowner at 6:21 PM on December 28 [23 favorites]


mainstream healthcare in the west has been inexplicably blind to the role that diet plays in preventing and alleviating ill health

Inexplicably blind? That‘s such a weird way of putting it. More like, entirely corrupt and bought off by the food industry, ie big sugar et al. I mean it‘s not a secret or a conspiracy theory at this point.

I‘m pretty much in the Bittman camp and the thin white lady instagram glow stuff grosses me out but...there‘s a lot of condescension in this piece. If only all these kale-munching sheeple were as smart as the author...
posted by The Toad at 6:32 PM on December 28 [4 favorites]



Inexplicably blind? That‘s such a weird way of putting it. More like, entirely corrupt and bought off by the food industry, ie big sugar et al. I mean it‘s not a secret or a conspiracy theory at this point.


Yeah definitely this. I'm getting my master's right now to become a dietitian, and it was completely mind blowing to read the actual code of ethics the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics puts out. Specifically, it doesn't define what a conflict of interest could be as a practitioner. As long as what you receive doesn't impact your professional judgement, then anything goes. It also explains why that Coca Cola and Pepsi both stopped being sponsors only about TWO TO THREE Years ago. Oof. Talk about complicity right there!

But it's also alarming how many actual dietitians also use the hashtag. Though there is a lot of significant overlap between the demographics of dietitians (white, from upper middle class, women) and those who espoused clean eating to start with.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:02 PM on December 28 [4 favorites]


This article skirts dangerously close to offhandedly vouching for a lot of the weird misconceptions that lead to orthorexia. Not the quotes from nutritionists and such, those are fine, the "eat less, eat more vegetables" part is something no one disagrees with, but these two paragraphs:
Clean eating – whether it is called that or not – is perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a dream of purity in a toxic world. To walk into a modern western supermarket is to be assailed by aisle upon aisle of salty, oily snacks and sugary cereals, of “bread” that has been neither proved nor fermented, of cheap, sweetened drinks and meat from animals kept in inhumane conditions.

In the postwar decades, most countries in the world underwent what the professor of nutrition Barry Popkin calls a “nutrition transition” to a westernised diet high in sugar, meat, fat, salt, refined oils and ultra-processed concoctions, and low in vegetables. Affluence and multi-national food companies replaced the hunger of earlier generations with an unwholesome banquet of sweet drinks and convenience foods that teach us from a young age to crave more of the same. Wherever this pattern of eating travelled, it brought with it dramatic rises in ill health, from allergies to cancer.
They do a lot of harm, I think. First of all, they use the term "toxic", which is one of the most overused buzzwords of the diet charlatans, implying that a lot of "modern" food is actually not food, but poison. Secondly, it makes a huge correlation to causation error, and, perhaps more dangerously, conflate incidence of diagnosis with incidence of disease, where the correlation of modern diet to higher incidence of diagnosis of various diseases is implied to mean that the modern diet causes a higher incidence of the actual diseases.

In fact, there's no good reason, and no scientific basis to generally assume that a modern, processed food diet leads to more cancer or allergies (beyond a few specific cancer types that have some correlation with the consumption of processed meat), and cancer diagnosis increases in particular are generally explainable with a increase in median life expectancy combined with better diagnostic procedures, which also leads to fewer people dying of cancer, because more people are diagnosed, or diagnosed early.

Obviously diet affects type II diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular conditions, although those links are also not as clear and obvious as some people might want you to think, but to say that something nebulously defined like "ultra-processed food" or "refined oils" leads to a huge group of diseases, as varied as cancer and allergies, is incredibly irresponsible.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:40 PM on December 28 [20 favorites]


Eating "clean" has been a weight lifting diet for decades. And it means eating food that leans you out for a cut, after a bulk. Wrestlers, swimmers, boxers, jockeys, models etc adopted it as it's a great way to lose a bunch of fat and water for a weigh in or race or shoot. You're not supposed to do it forever. It's weird to see it co-opted by the diet fad but I assume it'll mean the same in lifting culture long after it loses fad status.

This isn't a bad article but they are missing the historical context of the terms, not surprisingly as it's a British writer, and also they have a very English dislike of vegetables. Most people do eat like shit in the UK and in the US and could do with making some attempt to adopt better eating habits. It's not like the entire country is suddenly going to sail past a bodyfat percentage of 5% straight into death.

And people with eating disorders would have them anyway, besides which as I am get further into middle age I have to say that those with the diets we've been making fun of for years are doing pretty well compared to the average Joe. My 53 year old sibling who gave up meat, caffeine, most alcohol and all added sugar in the mid-80s has the body and mind of a 35 year old. It's extremely annoying but he might be on to something.
posted by fshgrl at 7:54 PM on December 28 [1 favorite]


To expand on that, the whole '"bread" that has been neither proved nor fermented' line is part of the same thing. It's an argument to nature, that is, if "bread" hasn't been made the way it's always been made, then it's necessarily bad for you. I'm no big fan of wonderbread, but I don't think it's particularly worse for you than bread made the traditional way that contains pretty much the same stuff. If the nutritional values are the same, then it's not worse for you (although it may be quite a lot less tasty or pleasant to eat).

It also conflates "cheap" in the sense of inexpensive with "cheap" in the sense of bad quality, in "cheap, sweetened drinks". As so often happens, there's no distinction made here between "sweetened" as in high in sugar and calories, and "sweetened" as in containing non-calorie sweeteners, which, although the food fascists like to scream about it, are not bad for you, nor do they make you gain weight.

In general, this reeks of food elitism. If it's cheap, it's bad for you. If it's sweet or appeals to anything but refined gourmand palates, it must also be the cause of all that which ails the non-gourmand lower class. Oh, if they'd only eat more clean, more refined, not follow their base instincts!

The fact is, modern, processed food offers a bunch of calories for a low price, and not all of it is bad for you. People who have little money don't have many options, and implying tasty food within their budget is somehow bad just because it doesn't follow your norms for what good food is, even though there's no scientific reason to think it's actually unhealthy is just snobbery. It's downright destructive to conflate "lower-class" and "cheap" with unhealthy, it makes it impossible to distinguish between the cheap and actually unhealthy stuff (too much fat, too much sodium, too much sugar) and the stuff that's just not up to snobbish standards.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:01 PM on December 28 [25 favorites]


I've gotten to the point now where the necessity of eating food - clean, dirty, junk, bad, good, processed, natural, whatever - is just tedious at best, misery-inducing at worst. I often wish I could just take a pill that would cover my basic nutritional needs and alleviate my hunger, so that any food I ate would be simply because I enjoyed the taste of it. Well, barring the growing list of foods that have unpleasant physical effects on my digestive system.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:54 PM on December 28 [8 favorites]


A close relative of mine is into this sort of stuff. She thinks she's finally uncovered the reason for her various lifelong struggles with this and that. To me, it's totally disordered eating. She takes a kernel of truth and runs with it, beyond even where the bloggers take it. She's versed enough in journal-speak to take a study and interpret it in a light that fits best with her current food belief system.

It's really hard to be around her, because all she wants to talk about is her personal food rules, in a slightly preachy way. As a former disordered eater myself, I cannot help but want to refute everything she says that sounds unhealthy to me, which doesn't go over well. I see her creating self-fulfilling prophecies and self-reinforcing downward spirals. So hard to "live and let live" where health is on the line.

/post-christmas rant
posted by mantecol at 9:11 PM on December 28 [6 favorites]


It's really hard to be around her, because all she wants to talk about is her personal food rules, in a slightly preachy way

One thing this sort of thing does for people is, it gives them a way to be totally self-centered, while feeling virtuous about that.
posted by thelonius at 11:26 PM on December 28 [12 favorites]


Just eat more Grape-Nuts

Some men are born to Grape-Nuts
Some have Grape-Nuts thrust upon them
posted by chavenet at 2:06 AM on December 29 [14 favorites]


Obviously diet affects type II diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular conditions, although those links are also not as clear and obvious as some people might want you to think, but to say that something nebulously defined like "ultra-processed food" or "refined oils" leads to a huge group of diseases, as varied as cancer and allergies, is incredibly irresponsible.

This seems a little far in the other direction for me, though. Metabolic syndrome does seem to be associated with greater risk for several common cancers and asthma (I agree saying "allergies" in general is an odd choice; maybe there's a real link there but I've never heard of one). And of course, diet is one of the most prominent risk factors for and main interventions to treat metabolic syndrome, even beyond its effects on weight. There's a lot of research supporting the idea that the Standard American Diet predisposes people to ill health and that alternatives like the Mediterranean diet can help reverse that process. Efforts to pin that down more precisely to one or another dietary component have not tended to be very illuminating, I would agree, but I didn't think that any of the above broad strokes were particularly controversial.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:07 AM on December 29 [8 favorites]


Sorry, I should have also said that it is unquestionably a feature of the SAD that it includes lots of processed foods relative to the DASH or Mediterranean diet. Parsing that out super specifically seems kind of dangerous to me since that gets into the modern controversies over whether it's "really" saturated fats or sugars or acrylamides or etc. that are ultimately responsible, when settling that is not really necessary to see health benefits.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:15 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]




EmpressCallipygos: The only people who would have the grounds to call someone "heretic" over what they eat should be doing so for religious reasons - like, say, if someone caught the Lubavitcher Rebbe having a bacon double cheeseburger or something.

To me, the movement sounds like religious impulses that haven't (yet?) coalesced into a religion. I think I'd put Clean Eating on the same side of the line as the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a bacon double cheeseburger, not the other side; they seem to come from the same impulse.

Incidentally, I'm reminded of Gandhi's autobiography, in which he says that he's mostly going to skip over the political stuff since that's been written about elsewhere; what he really wants to get across is how what you eat can elevate your soul over your animal nature.
posted by clawsoon at 5:33 AM on December 29 [4 favorites]


Clean eating is a trap I have fallen into occasionally, much to my husband's chagrin. I do stand by trying not to eat overly processed junk food on the regular--though Christmas gets a massive pass on this, obv--because products are really laden with variations on sugar. I went sugar-free for September just to see what would happen, and it was amazing the mostly everyday stuff you couldn't eat because of all the sugar! I'm a nerd who likes to most of her own food anyway--bread, yogurt, etc--but realize the massive privilege I have in being able to do so. I've cleansed (heh) my IG feed of all the enviously pretty vegan bloggers because no matter how much "clean eating" I do, I will never look like that kind of vegan.
posted by Kitteh at 6:24 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]


But when did it ever? We have never assessed information primarily on its own merits

Well - at one point we had "faith" that those in authority were correct, and looking out for our best interests.

I'm definately not saying that was better, just saying that was one of the reasons that things seemed more stable in the past. The internet hasn't changed anything, just accelerated the cycles...
posted by jkaczor at 6:35 AM on December 29 [2 favorites]


I'm no big fan of wonderbread, but I don't think it's particularly worse for you than bread made the traditional way that contains pretty much the same stuff. If the nutritional values are the same, then it's not worse for you (although it may be quite a lot less tasty or pleasant to eat).

That's one hell of an "if".
posted by Space Coyote at 8:51 AM on December 29 [7 favorites]


the young lady who sits in the office across from me has been on a clean eating diet that has advised her to go on a 'cleanse' which involves drinking 2 gallons of water with lemon slices in it every day

and because we live in a really great society of manners, I feel miffed about telling her that that's actually really horrible and how long distance runners die sometimes. it's her own personal business to destroy her own health in the same way people crash dieting and fucking up their metabolism also is horrible

I think a cultural attitude of understanding evidence-based, peer-reviewed things can help with this since it's really not that hard to find good sources for diet and exercise (eg the NIH/DPHP guidelines). info from unsourced blogs and anecdotal evidence is a culture unto itself, just one that advocates for really shitty lifestyles and a pathway to empowerment that somehow always ends up being tied to some MLM scheme
posted by runt at 10:01 AM on December 29 [2 favorites]


jkaczor: I'm definately not saying that was better, just saying that was one of the reasons that things seemed more stable in the past. The internet hasn't changed anything, just accelerated the cycles...

I used to think that, too, but the more medieval history I read, the less I'm convinced that things were more stable. One example: The Inquisition had to keep squashing heresies that kept popping up, like a game of whack-a-mole. The post-WWII consensus in the West lasted about as long as a typical period of consensus and peace and theological agreement did in the medieval world. Constantly coming up with new ways to not trust authority is, I think, the normal state of human affairs.
posted by clawsoon at 10:56 AM on December 29 [8 favorites]


In the pre-Instagram days, I actually started out with the anorexia and going vegetarian, but used veganism/"health" as an excuse to cut out ever more entire food groups. I totally concur that all these rules and the strict pure vs. impure, clean vs. dirty dichotomy is absolutely perfect for disordered eating. And it allows one to cloak their anorexia in virtuousness in a way that's even harder to fight than plain old dysmorphia.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:14 AM on December 29 [6 favorites]


Most people do eat like shit in the UK and in the US and could do with making some attempt to adopt better eating habits. It's not like the entire country is suddenly going to sail past a bodyfat percentage of 5% straight into death. And people with eating disorders would have them anyway...
posted by fshgrl

Except that people adopting these diets have later found themselves in the middle of an eating disorder they didn't have before. Maybe they would have had it without the diet, but eating disorders are at worst DEADLY and at least make your life a living hell.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:18 AM on December 29 [4 favorites]


Except that people adopting these diets have later found themselves in the middle of an eating disorder they didn't have before. Maybe they would have had it without the diet, but eating disorders are at worst DEADLY and at least make your life a living hell.

So does weighing 450lbs and losing your feet to diabetes. There are people who take things to extremes but the vast majority of us don't and could benefit quite a bit from being more thoughtful about what we eat.

Think of it not as a moral judgement but as an argument against putting high octane into a diesel every day for 40 years.

the young lady who sits in the office across from me has been on a clean eating diet that has advised her to go on a 'cleanse' which involves drinking 2 gallons of water with lemon slices in it every day

and because we live in a really great society of manners, I feel miffed about telling her that that's actually really horrible and how long distance runners die sometimes. it's her own personal business to destroy her own health in the same way people crash dieting and fucking up their metabolism also is horrible


There are well understood benefits to fasting, for autoimmune issues and chronic conditions. It works very well for me when I need it.It's commonly done under medical supervision all over the world. Regular fasting is a part of most cultures, and used to be a part of ours. I grew up giving up all sugar, candy and sweets for Lent each year and I still give up all sugar, alcohol etc for two months each winter out of habit. Just because you don't agree with your colleagues choice and think she is a "young woman" doing it to look pretty and will destroy her health means nothing at all. You don't know her medical history, you don't know what research she's done and you clearly don't know much about fasting if you think she's going to die and destroy her health doing a short water fast. Many, many healthy people do those every year.
posted by fshgrl at 11:46 AM on December 29 [3 favorites]


and you clearly don't know much about fasting if you think she's going to die and destroy her health doing a short water fast

I don't think runt is concerned about potential fasting so much as water intoxication given their comment about runners dying. A simple nudge about electrolytes would probably suffice though, I don't see how that's impolite.
posted by Feyala at 12:48 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


I had typed up a whole response about water intoxication, saying that two gallons of water/day isn’t going to hurt anybody, but then I thought about how she’s drinking it with lemon juice — a diuretic — and in the context of a cleanse her body may be under stress, which impairs kidney function, and she may be low on electrolytes, due to the cleanse. So like . . . yeah, that might be kinda dangerous. A young healthy body can survive a lot of abuse, but you never know who has some kind of undiagnosed kidney dysfunction, and not everybody who undertakes this stuff is gonna have a young healthy body.
posted by chrchr at 1:01 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


This is also the folly of youth - just pick your cause and advocate.

I must have been ahead of my time, I went through my carob juicing vegan kale phase in the late 90s/early 2000s and was done by the time these people even picked out a domain name. Kids!

It does peeve me off a little when my sister thinks kale chips are amazing but totally made fun of me 15 years ago. How time distorts things.

TBH, done right you do feel amazing. Part of it is the food, part of it is the belief of being so healthy.

I prefer the middle way these days but after all that meat at Xmas I'm ready for a reset. Happy new year everyone!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:45 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


God, I just love when someone invokes the 450 pound fatty with diabetes to win an internet argument.

Weight stigma kills. (So does disordered eating — as was said above, eating disorders are deadly.) At best, bringing up the mythical death fat person just makes us into an Other, who are less likely to seek medical treatment, less likely to receive evidence-based care when we do get medical treatment, and more likely to be discriminated against socially and professionally, which is another signifier of health.

Yo-yo dieting (i.e., all dieting) puts strain on your heart, messes with your blood sugar, metabolism, raises your blood pressure and lowers your white blood cell count... and to boot, you know what the best predictor of weight gain is? Weight loss. Estimates vary, but most studies find that 95-97% of diets fail.

I hope intuitive eating continues to gain followers and that we can stop with the whole restricted eating diets even when people don't call them diets. And I hope we can stop bringing up fat people as a reason why people should practice disordered eating. Until we know how to make fat people thin (and thin people fat!) long-term we need to focus on evidence-based care to treat diabetes instead of hand-wavy moral panic over 450 pound people. Because we know stigma contributes to health problems like diabetes, so if you gave a shit about fat people's health, you'd stop equating size with worth.

Fshgirl, this is not all directed at you, but I hope you take it to heart.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 3:54 PM on December 29 [31 favorites]


There are well understood benefits to fasting, for autoimmune issues and chronic conditions. It works very well for me when I need it.It's commonly done under medical supervision all over the world. Regular fasting is a part of most cultures, and used to be a part of ours. I grew up giving up all sugar, candy and sweets for Lent each year and I still give up all sugar, alcohol etc for two months each winter out of habit. Just because you don't agree with your colleagues choice and think she is a "young woman" doing it to look pretty and will destroy her health means nothing at all. You don't know her medical history, you don't know what research she's done and you clearly don't know much about fasting if you think she's going to die and destroy her health doing a short water fast. Many, many healthy people do those every year.

Hmm. Let's.....pick some of these things apart here. And may I remind the room - you posted this in response to someone discussing a co-worker who was on a self-imposed water-with-lemon-juice fast.

There are well understood benefits to fasting, for autoimmune issues and chronic conditions. It works very well for me when I need it.It's commonly done under medical supervision all over the world.

I think the relevant thing there is = "under medical supervision". I don't think anyone here is disputing that fasting under doctors' orders, with a medical team watching you and telling you how to do it, is a problem. However, following a fast under medical supervision is a very different thing from following a fast which you read about in GOOP or something, where you're following a plan that was typed out on someone's web page and the only person paying attention to what's going on with you is you - a person who has not been trained in what medical symptoms you may need to watch for.

Regular fasting is a part of most cultures, and used to be a part of ours. I grew up giving up all sugar, candy and sweets for Lent each year and I still give up all sugar, alcohol etc for two months each winter out of habit.

You gave up all sugar, candy, sweets, and alcohol. You didn't give up all food entirely for 40 days. I was raised Catholic; I know what Lent entails, and so I know that you most likely were still eating a balanced diet which at least included fish. That is a very different thing from eating nothing at all, and drinking nothing but water with lemon juice.

Just because you don't agree with your colleagues choice and think she is a "young woman" doing it to look pretty and will destroy her health means nothing at all. You don't know her medical history, you don't know what research she's done and you clearly don't know much about fasting if you think she's going to die and destroy her health doing a short water fast. Many, many healthy people do those every year.

I don't think that the youth of the co-worker or the existance of other medically-approved fasts is at issue. I think what is at issue is that there is a preponderance of water-and-lemon fad fasts which are not found in any reputable medical journal - but are all over the internet as the "Hollywood beauty fast" or some such. So it stands to reason that someone undertaking the very water fast being described in fashion magazines is probably doing so at the advice of the same fashion magazines.

And speaking personally - if my doctor did prescribe a fast for medical reasons, I most likely would be undergoing it on the weekend, at a time when I could stay home 24/7 and be comfortable amid the hunger pangs I would no doubt be undergoing, and I'd wager my doctor would also suggest I do that very same thing for the very same reason.

The fact that there are responsible ways to fast does not negate the fact that some very irresponsible ways to fast are also being promoted, and are being given a much wider platform.

Mind you, I think it would be a mistake for anyone to call this water-faster on her habits at work unless her work itself is becoming an issue - any un-asked for advice is usually unwelcome. But I also would not necessarily assume she is following doctors' advice, either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 PM on December 29 [14 favorites]


like Chris Pratt transforming from Andy to Peter Quill.

All he did was stop drinking beer.

posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:13 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I should have also said that it is unquestionably a feature of the SAD that it includes lots of processed foods relative to the DASH or Mediterranean diet.
Yeah, except there's nothing about processing that's bad, and besides, lots of stuff that's bad for you is unprocessed. One of the main things about DASH, for instance, is to avoid sodium, and sea salt is about as natural and unprocessed as it gets. DASH and the Mediterranean diet generally include whole-grain pasta, which is of course processed. Frozen foods count as "processed", no matter if it's spinach or french fries. Same with canned foods.

Any food that's been fortified with vitamins or minerals, things which make it healthier, for instance, adding folic acid to wheat flour, which is widely done in many countries to increase the folic acid intake of potentially pregnant women and reduce birth defects, by definition make that flour and anything made from it "processed food".

The idea that if something is as it comes from nature, untampered with, done as little with as possible, is healthy, and the opposite is unhealthy, is a lie. It's a common lie, but a lie none the less, and it's a dangerous one. Some types of processing change nutrient content (increasing or decreasing certain nutrients), which may be a side effect of other benefits to processing, such as increased shelf life, reduced risk of bacterial contamination, or improved flavor.

Selling this sort of "natural and unprocessed is always better" bullshit is what leads to raw milk nutcases, amongst other things.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:13 PM on December 29 [16 favorites]


However, we do know that intake of highly-processed foods is, overall, a risk factor for poorer health. Obviously, human intervention in and of itself is not what makes these foods less nutritious; it should go without saying that nobody who writes seriously about processed food in the scientific literature believes that. The problem is that there's too much confounding -- i.e., too many things changing at once -- to definitively assign causality to each specific ingredient and processing technique associated with the Western diet. This is one reason there has been such a robust recent debate over the relative importance of, for example, saturated fat versus sugar, an important part of my earlier response that you neglected to quote. (You might also see the debate over salt and cholesterol intake. There was even a plausible molecular mechanism for how dietary cholesterol would impact CVD, and yet it appears that for most people there is no strong relationship, meaning that recommendation caused people to avoid perfectly nutritious foods and possibly to replace them with less healthy ones. See also the continuing debate between butter and margarine.)

My understanding is that the largest differences in risk we see are actually from studies that compare entire diets, not specific ingredients or even macronutrients. This is again because lots of changes in the Western diet are confounded with one another, because people do not spontaneously self-sort into randomized controlled trials varying the levels of individual compounds, and because RCTs are expensive and time-consuming compared to observational data.

Finally, comparing the avoidance of the most processed foods to raw milk consumption, which not only has no evidence to support it but actually flies in the face of centuries of evidence of harm, is completely disingenuous.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:03 AM on December 30 [5 favorites]


From a biochemical standpoint, the terms “clean food” and “real food” are kind of meaningless, anyway. And terms like “processed” and “organic” and “all natural” are seriously problematic, too. Setting aside the psychological and social and spiritual aspects of food (which are hugely significant to how they impact health), on a fundamental level food = chemicals.

One of the resources I use to combat chemophobia with my students is the work of Australian chemist James Kennedy who has developed a series of posters in the ingredients in common foods. Here’s perhaps his most famous one, listing the nearly 60 chemical ingredients of an all-natural strawberry. It definitely puts the “I avoid ingredients I can’t pronounce” view in a different perspective.

Virtually every food we eat is a mixture of various chemical compounds, many of which would be a huge turn off to so-called “clean food” advocates. Don't like the idea of having that scary sounding 4-hydroxy-2,5-dimethyl-3-furanone contaminating your food? Well, get ready to cut out tomatoes, many berries and some grains. Oh, and by the way, your body makes it anyway through the metabolism of glucose.

Even “processed” can be advantageous or it can be disadvantageous when talking about specific foods, depending on what is introduced or taken out. If you peel an apple and remove its seeds, then grind it into applesauce, add spices, then freeze it for consumption later, are you “highly processing” it? Does it make it an “unclean” or “unreal” food? What about if you remove the bran from a wheat berry before you grind it into flour?

“All natural” is another pet peeve. Amygdalin is an all-natural substance, found in the seeds of a humble “real food” apple, but it generates hydrogen cyanide — a deadly poison — when ingested. Few people suggest that cyanide compounds are good for you. But, to be more nuanced, as they say in pharmacology: the dosage makes the toxin. In an apple, the amount of amygdalin is so small from a few seeds that they would pose no real risk because the human body can safely process small amounts of hydrogen cyanide on that scale. And if the seed coat is still intact, it’s unlikely much of the amygdalin would ever be released anyway. So there’s just one example of one specific, simple food that nevertheless introduces a variety of confounding issues to consider.

Similarly, my organic chemistry students are often shocked to learn, early in the semester, that caffeine is the most toxic compound we will work with in the lab (i.e., has the lowest LD50 vs. being “the most dangerous”). But it is all-natural and, depending on the dosage, either has no effect, a mild salutary effect, a moderate deleterious effect, or can be fatal. But few people would suggest a simple cup of tea isn’t “all natural” or “real food”.

I think en forme de poire has it right, that there are correlations that can be useful when looking more broadly at diet, but that individual ingredients introduce significant confounding issues when addressed in isolation. There is something meaningful and useful about the concept behind “clean food” and “real food” that needs to be addressed in our food supply and consumption patterns. But that meaning and utility are — as is often the case — obfuscated by the hype and marketing that surround them, and that can focus too fanatically on specific components.

Of course, this is not isolated to food. it is almost impossible for me to go more than a few days without spotting some new product making claims that show either a lazy ignorance of basic chemistry involved, or a clear intent to mislead consumers to make money. With internet fad diets, there’s probably a little of both, with a little self-aggrandizement thrown in, along with, yeah, a legitimate desire to help others.

It can be a toxic brew, to be sure.
posted by darkstar at 9:04 AM on December 30 [18 favorites]


I've noticed products telling me they are #guiltfree, which annoys me to no end because I know that categorizing food into good and bad is a major sign of eating disorder.

I experience a spike of rage whenever I see dessert foods marketed as "decadent" or "sinful" or whatever the fuck. It feels insufferably condescending -- "wink, wink, nudge, ladies, this is really bad for you, and you really shouldn't, but you know you want to!"

Stop making me not want to buy your perfectly good chocolate mousse.
posted by confluency at 9:20 AM on December 30 [13 favorites]


Finally, comparing the avoidance of the most processed foods to raw milk consumption, which not only has no evidence to support it but actually flies in the face of centuries of evidence of harm, is completely disingenuous.

Unfortunately, I know smart, well-educated people (i.e., with PhDs in STEM fields) who have bought into the raw milk thing. I think it is completely related to the "clean" nonsense and the "unprocessed" nonsense. They talk about microbiomes while insisting these cows are clean and it's totally safe and I feel nauseous. I hate slippery slope arguments, too, but in this case I know people who slipped right down that slope. None of them have listeria yet, at least, but I do worry about them.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:25 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]


For those noting the similarities between the discourse of clean eating to that of eating disorders -- the Ruby Tandoh article linked in the FPP goes into this and is REALLY good. (Previously.)
posted by jeudi at 9:34 AM on December 30 [4 favorites]


I agree that raw milk and e.g. anti-vax and anti-GMO movements are linked by the same appeal to the naturalistic fallacy, sorry. My point was that the actual evidence for benefit and risk from raw milk is not comparable to, and even opposite from, the risk profile of choosing a more traditional vs. Western diet, and that it is therefore unfair to compare the two without pointing out this critical difference.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:56 AM on December 30


RE: "Sinful" and "guilt-free" type marketing where we use the language of religion as a diet tool is a fascinating topic, and explored by religious scholar and author of The Gluten Lie: and Other Myths About What You Eat. This podcast episode where he discusses the parallels with an anti-diet dietician (national treasure Christy Harrison) is a really fun listen and breaks down clean eating as a way for non-religious people to find meaning and community in the modern world.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:25 PM on December 30 [8 favorites]


Decision fatigue is a real thing. Diets that claim to remove uncertainty can take great hold in the mind.

Also on the note of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, I was happily eating a cashew apple on a farm in Costa Rica, when a new-age hippie type who had just arrived swooped over and picked up the cashew nut I had put aside. “Oh wow, fresh cashews! You can never find these in the States!” I warned him not to eat it, that it was raw and needed to be cooked. He said, “Raw nuts are much better for you,” and proceeded to eat the whole thing in one bite.

Friends, he ended up hospitalized for a massive rash on his mouth and esophagus, as raw cashews contain a toxin very similar to poison ivy that can only be removed through roasting.
posted by ananci at 1:36 PM on December 30 [22 favorites]


I think that part of the problem with these discussions is that, much like the clean eating movement itself, discussions of the clean eating movement seem to break down into black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. Either you accept clean eating as an unmitigated good, or you think that everyone should subsist on a steady diet of cheetos and twinkies. I'm pretty opposed to the idea of clean eating, definitely for myself and to some extent in general, but I think there are positive things about it. I just think they're outweighed by the really negative things, and you can still have the good stuff without the bullshit.

What's good about the idea of clean eating, I think, is that it focuses on the positive, pleasurable aspects of food. It says that food should be delicious, and it encourages people to eat food that is delicious. A lot of the recipes they tout are genuinely good recipes. That's different from a lot of the dieting stuff I've encountered, which treats eating as some sort of necessary evil and encourages you to eat gross food. And of course they're not wrong to criticize a lot of things about the standard diets in the countries in which most of the clean eating enthusiasts live.

But there are some really bad things:

The movement claims that there's a clear connection between virtue, health and beauty. Virtue leads to health. Health leads to beauty. This is a really seductive idea, especially for women, but it's bullshit. It's an example of the just world fallacy. It also creates a situation in which beauty confers authority, which leads people to trust false authorities and distrust people who know what they're talking about but aren't lithe 20-year-olds.

The movement encourages all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "it's not a good idea to eat a lot of sugar," it says "sugar is a toxin!" (Some clean eating enthusiasts also claim that some alternatives to sugar are clean, when they're really just different kinds of sugar.) Instead of saying "some people react badly to gluten," it says "gluten is a toxin!" It divides foods into the categories "clean" and "dirty" and seems to suggest that you are a dirty person if you eat dirty food. This, to me, is the essence of eating disorder thinking, and I can't engage in it without risking my health. I realize that other people don't have the same issues with it, which is fine. But I don't think it's a great way of viewing food.

The movement makes a lot of claims that aren't backed up by evidence. I don't know how much I can criticize this, given how little nutrition advice is actually backed up by evidence. But if you're going to tell me that some category of food is toxic and I should never eat it, I would like for there to be some actual evidence backing up the claim.

The movement encourages people to build their identity around their food choices. Again, that may not be a problem for some people, but it's eating disorder thinking for me.

It can be needlessly expensive and fussy. I make something a lot like this clean eating strawberry pancake syrup, but I make it with frozen strawberries instead of fresh, powdered sugar instead of coconut sugar, and using the microwave for a few minutes instead simmering for 30-40. Way easier, considerably cheaper, and coconut sugar is not actually any better for you than normal sugar.

So anyway, I totally sometimes steal recipes from clean eating blogs, but I still think a lot of the criticism is justified.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:18 PM on December 30 [10 favorites]


From Dr. David Juurlink, who's a toxicologist (selected publication history here), via Twitter:

For those contemplating a detox or cleanse in 2018, here’s a toxicologist’s explanation of how they work:

They don’t.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:01 PM on December 30 [7 favorites]


I disagree that people who oppose clean eating go straight into twinkies and Cheetos being perfectly okay. Maybe that's a misunderstanding of what intuitive eating is, because it comes up a lot when you reject the idea of restricted eating. Almost everyone assumes that once you reject the diet paradigm that you'll just eat junk food all day. And you might for a few weeks because restriction does a number on you. But you're born knowing what it takes to nourish yourself and you can relearn how to listen to hunger and fullness cues while also accepting that you might eat for reasons beyond hunger and move on when you do. Eventually you realize what makes you feel good and that you crave foods that do that. Usually that's not junk food but if it is, it's not a huge crisis.

If you don't want to waste mental energy on diet, Soylent isn't the answer. Intuitive eating is the freedom that so many people desperately want to have around food. Not having to wonder what to eat and if you're eating enough veggies or if you're eating too much in a social situations of whether you have eaten too many points for the day...that sucks up so much time. Unfortunately, dieting/disordered eating fucks with your hunger and fullness cues so it does take work up front to begin to trust yourself and ongoing practice but imagine the joy of just eating without morality!

So those of us who oppose the idea of clean eating aren't saying that junk food is just as good. I feel neutral about junk food—after important time spent working with a dietician, coaches and my own self study to recognize that junk food doesn't make me feel satisfied or energized but that sometimes I want a crunchy or sweet thing and can eat it, stop when I've had enough, and not think about it.

All the mental energy we spend obsessing about food is wasted energy and can be used to move our bodies for fun and be creative and do good work. And the research shows that it's intuitive eating, not a Mediterranean diet or other restrictions, that has the best health outcomes. I'm on mobile and linking is a pain but the book Intuitive Eating has all the research and much of it can be found online.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:46 PM on December 30 [5 favorites]


However, following a fast under medical supervision is a very different thing from following a fast which you read about in GOOP or something, where you're following a plan that was typed out on someone's web page and the only person paying attention to what's going on with you is you

as long as you're a woman eating or drinking in public, you know this is never ever the case. There will always be a bystander paying intense attention to how many milliliters of water you're consuming, eager to write it down and discuss it on the internet or wherever. you know, because they're very concerned about your kidneys and electrolytes. it's important! you probably heard about "water" from gwyneth paltrow, seeing as you're a girl. better set you straight. if we don't save women from themselves and their citrus fruits, who will? certainly not gwyneth, did you know she's not even a licensed hydrologist

everybody understands that people -- even young ladies -- don't eat, say, candy because they're too stupid to know that processed sugar is bad for you and makes you feel bad. no, they do it because A. they like it, B. it's worth it, C. it's not worth it but they feel terrible anyway and who cares, D. it's better than a quart of vodka, E. fuck off, mind your own business, F. I am terminally ill anyway so I can put anything in my face with no consequences, bet you feel bad now, don't you, G. devoting myself to this sensory experience temporarily distracts me from thinking about my failures in life, H. it's a bonding experience with one's peers, I. I cannot afford a salad, buy me one if it bothers you so much, K. my blood sugar is low so this skittle just saved my life. it's easy to rattle these off. hurting yourself a little bit with disgusting foodstuffs can make you feel better in other ways and is therefore a rational choice sometimes and nobody's business always. everybody understands that.

but if you get those same piquant little self-harm distraction pleasures from some fuckin lemony water, oho no you definitely must be stupid and you don't understand what nutrition is.

there definitely probably are people who will chug their whole daily ration of lemony water in less than three hours and die of hyponatremia. but worrying/"worrying" that your average woman is likely to do that is about like worrying that your average woman is going to put herself in a diabetic coma from eating all five bags of candy corn you saw stashed in her desk drawer: fun, but gross and unnecessary. just like drinking lemony water and eating candy corn. guess we all have our dumb pleasures which kill us sometimes, but come on, not usually.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:31 PM on December 30 [10 favorites]


>However, following a fast under medical supervision is a very different thing from following a fast which you read about in GOOP or something, where you're following a plan that was typed out on someone's web page and the only person paying attention to what's going on with you is you

as long as you're a woman eating or drinking in public, you know this is never ever the case. There will always be a bystander paying intense attention to how many milliliters of water you're consuming, eager to write it down and discuss it on the internet or wherever. you know, because they're very concerned about your kidneys and electrolytes. it's important! you probably heard about "water" from gwyneth paltrow, seeing as you're a girl. better set you straight. if we don't save women from themselves and their citrus fruits, who will? certainly not gwyneth, did you know she's not even a licensed hydrologist


For the record, the discussion from which you pulled that quote was comparing medically proscribed fasts to ones people do on their own. I will grant that this one point of my initial discussion was not clear, so:

What I meant by saying "the only person paying attention to what's going on is you" was a reference to "the only person paying attention to how your physical body is affected by a fast is you." Now, yes, we are each all the masters of our own bodies, and there are things we know about what feels good and what doesn't for each of us that should take precedence. Of course. But - if there is somet medical side effect of a fast that feels good but was actually a sign that something bad was going down, how would you know unless a doctor had warned you to watch out for it?

Bodies can do weird stuff sometimes. Bodies can react weirdly to stuff sometimes, and sometimes that weird reaction that feels good may be a sign of something NOT good. Kind of like how in the viagra ads, they always say an erection lasting more than 4 hours is a sign you should call your doctor - you know that there are guys who, if they didn't know a 4-hour erection was bad, would be all "sweet, I got a perma-boner!" and carry on their merry way. That's why they say that in the ads - to let those guys know that "hey, this may SEEM like it's an awesome thing, but it's actually bad". Similarly, my point was that it's better to have some input from someone who is trained in how bodies work to say "hey, here's a thing that could happen that may feel good but is actually bad, so just watch out for it."

You will also notice I didn't refer to gender when I said "the only person paying attention to what's going on with you is you". You will also note that I thought that the co-worker snooping on the lemon-water drinker should mind their own business anyway. I was speaking simply and solely to fshgrl's notion that a "hollywood beauty fast" was exactly 100% equal to a medically-directed fast or to giving up candy for Lent. It's none of my business if you still want to go ahead and do that kind of fast, but you can't tell me that they're exactly the same thing.

That was my point, which I was making to both men and women.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 PM on December 30 [5 favorites]


you're born knowing what it takes to nourish yourself and you can relearn how to listen to hunger and fullness cues while also accepting that you might eat for reasons beyond hunger and move on when you do. Eventually you realize what makes you feel good and that you crave foods that do that. Usually that's not junk food but if it is, it's not a huge crisis.

This is a really nice thought but I don't know how it would help a person like me who 1) doesn't really feel "hunger" due to an anxiety disorder, and 2) is terrified about food safety, making it much more likely that I will be anxious - and therefore not in touch with my body - during meal times.

All the mental energy we spend obsessing about food is wasted energy and can be used to move our bodies for fun and be creative and do good work.

Like, the other day I ate two fresh apples from Aldi because I like fruit to snack on, and after I was done I read on the news that they had been recalled due to contamination with listeria. So like...? At least a nutrient-sapped, non-"clean", non-"whole" food like canned beans has had the botulism zapped out of it.

I've never dieted, and like I said above, "clean" eating scares me because it pushes all my potential-eating-disorder triggers, but I can 100% see the appeal because I would love to have (or think I had) a steady, stable, non-contaminated source of food that didn't trigger my IBS.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:04 AM on December 31 [1 favorite]


People are so insane in their backlash over this stuff. Dumb food fads have been around for ages; women going on clean eating diets because they acknowledge we, much like fish and dogs, are ready to gorge ourselves on whatever is put in front of us biologically are a lot more sane than people who believe “listening to our bodies” can actually tell us anything meaningful about nutrition. It can’t! This is not some best of all possible worlds!
posted by stoneandstar at 7:43 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Did you want to actually cite a source for that, stoneandstar, or just roll your eyes about intuitive eating (link to a well designed study about intuitive eating) being all fluff? I'm assuming that's what you meant, that intuitive eating is the equivalent of a fad diet. That's easily disproven: studies like these show that eating mindfully does tell us something meaningful about nutrition. If you want an easy list, here's Buzzfeed: 13 Experts Explain Why Diets Don't Work And What To Do Instead. Restriction — like clean eating — is shown to trigger binges. So these "dumb food fads" aren't actually doing shit to stop people from gorging themselves. Actually, binge eating recovery best practice is focused on intuitive eating.

It's not like it's super fun to undo years of diet mentality and weight stigma, or easy, or socially acceptable. It's a lot of work. You don't just suddenly understand how to do it, so I'm not talking about some kind of woo, listen to the colors of the wind type shit. Virtually all of us have been taught to ignore our hunger and fullness cues and distrust our cravings from a young age. It's too reductive to say that it's just about listening to your body but yeah, it does come down to trusting that your body can guide you to make nutritious choices (link to the (in)famous Clara Davis study of orphans who self-selected food, including one who chose to drink cod liver oil).

What's more, nutrition is not the be all and end all of health. Health has more to do with social standing, environment, and genetics than nutrition. I'd say many people who can afford to fanatically follow clean eating are actually benefiting from their social privilege rather than the benefits of "clean" foods.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:24 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


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